Sky Runs

Taking the long way round

Month: April 2015

The Injuries

After I had processed the report findings while sitting in radiology at Mt Sinai, I got in a taxi to pick up my x-ray records from the urgent care center on the west side. While I waited I texted a couple of friends with the news and felt a little on the verge of tears, I think I choked up a bit when one friend called me right away to see how I was doing. Even though I had tried to prepare myself for this diagnosis over the last few days, it still came as a blow. Crutches, no running, no walking even. I love to walk, so that last one really hurts.

After this first of the brief pity parties, I got home and digested the rest of the report: Oh, torn labrum too. Maybe that was what added to the terrible initial pain? This was the full list of goodies in my right hip:

  1. Femoral neck stress fracture: compression side
  2. Labral tear
  3. Low-grade muscle strain in the gluteus maximus
  4. Moderate hamstring tendonitis
  5. Inflammation in the area where the pubic bones join

But only the first two are worrisome. The upside: No mention of arthritis, which another friend points out is really good news. And there was nothing to indicate the need for a hip replacement either, which was one of the worst-case scenarios mentioned by others. And if a lot of the pain I experienced was coming from the tear, that might have actually saved me- with a fracture alone I may well have insisted on running until the bone broke in two. It’s not that I listened to my body and decided to drop, my body stopped listening to me, and I had no choice.

On Wednesday I was pretty excited to finally see a specialist. I think I lucked out with Dr. Bharam. He is one of the top hip doctors in town, and it also turns out he’s the one who operated on my friend Sara’s torn labrum a few years ago. What a small world. However, I was a little worried that, with him being the man to see for labral surgery, he would want to get me under the knife stat.

Again, no need for concern yet. He said it would be best to put off even thinking about labral surgery while my stress fracture heals. The femoral neck stress fracture is very serious, as there’s limited blood flow to the area, and additional stress to the can result in a full break, requiring pin surgery, or a hip replacement, and maybe no more running ever. As a result, the initial course treatment for very conservative (aka a whole lot of nothing)- I stay on crutches for another five weeks, with no cross-training at all, and then I’ll come back for a check-up and another MRI at the end of May. In the meantime I’ll have a bone density scan and see an endocrinologist for further blood work to look into potential underlying issues.

I try to maintain a positive (or at least neutral) attitude to this injury but it’s rough at times. I know, it could be much worse. Even over the last 10 days I’ve seen many positive changes: the scary pain is gone and the crutches are better than the wheelchair, just as the wheelchair was a huge improvement over no chair. I’m at home, I’m comfortable, I don’t have to go to an office or be on my feet for work, and I have a lot of love and support coming my way every day.

Still, I had no idea it was possible to develop a stress fracture in a matter of hours, and a torn labrum too. My previous understanding of fractures and labral tears was that they build up over time. Something starts bothering you, but just a little, so you run through it, and it gets progressively worse over the course of weeks or months until the body says enough and you go to the doctor and your worst fears are confirmed. So these assumptions were entirely wrong, as my doctor (and the internet) told me: people get stress fractures running 20-30 miles a week, people get stress fractures walking around and taking a wrong step. I’ll have to get over this eventually, but right now it scares the crap out of me to think that any time, on any run (especially during an ultra, when I’m geared to push through the pain) there could be another stress fracture lurking and waiting to get me: “Surprise! And FU too!”

I know I’ve been lucky to avoid major injuries so far, especially as I started becoming competitive over the last two years. In my first few years of running, I struggled with IT band issues that derailed a couple of marathons where I’d go out too fast and end up walk/running to the finish. After switching from heel striking to a mid-forefoot strike those problems seemed to go away and have never bothered me again. Everything else I’ve dealt with (hip bursitis, tight hamstrings and calf muscles, achey knees and buttocks) I’ve filed under “niggles” that have responded to treatment and adjustments in training, and my race-day performances have never been hampered by these issues.

Would it be any easier if I’d gone through a long injury process before and knew what to expect of the layoff and coming back? I don’t know, though over recent months I’ve felt a little uneasy about how important or central running was becoming to my life, because I know that I’m not young, and no matter how hard I might work at training for an planning the perfect race, what ultimately happens on race day has a lot of luck in the mix.

The next step is hard but necessary- withdrawing from all the major races on my calendar this year: Rock the Ridge, TGNY, Badwater, and Spartathlon. NYC Marathon? Still a possibility as it’s more than six months away, but I’m leaning hard towards rolling over my entry to 2016. Realistically (ie based on my research of online discussion forums), I shouldn’t expect to be running 60+ miles weeks before the end of the year. I’m setting my sights on Boston 2016 as my comeback race, and then gearing up to get back into ultras in late spring and summer. In the meantime, non-running adventures await.

Ten Days to a Diagnosis

I wish this could be another simple 10 days of recovery post like the one I wrote after One Day, but it’s a little more complicated and uncertain. This recovery is bound to take a bit longer, though I know I will come back stronger one day.

Day One: Sunday

After spending several hours hanging around the USA tent, with me lying around or sitting on a chair, and TSP trying to be helpful to other crews and runners, we all decided to head back to the hotel, clean up and rest for a bit, and return to the stadium before the finish. TSP carried me to the car, back to the hotel room, and everywhere else, hurting his back a bit in the process as well.

I cleaned up gingerly and lay in bed for a while, but was probably still too wired and filled with adrenaline to sleep. TSP talked to the hotel concierge and found out that there was a 24-hour pharmacy nearby that sold crutches- except they only had a small window that was open all the time– the front doors (and crutches) would not be available until 9am.

We had breakfast and piled back in to the car to the pharmacy. At this point it was excruciatingly painful to put any weight on the right leg, move it in certain ways, or get jostled while being picked up and put down. I don’t want to be dramatic and say it was beyond a 10 on the pain scale, so let’s just leave it at 10.

We arrived back at the stadium just in time for the final minutes of the race- everyone was picking up the pace and Katalin was running with the American flag! Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that the crutches would be useless to me- they were support crutches meant for people who can still use both their legs to some extent. So TSP carried me into the stadium and while Tiger summoned some of the event medical personnel who were able to carry me in a chair back to the USA tent, where most runners of my teammates were laying exhausted after their huge 24 hour efforts- women took the gold with the 1,2 and 4 individual rankings, while men moved up to 4th team with 2 guys in the top ten.

I was so proud to just be sitting around the gang, but then we learned that the 12:30 lunch had been canceled and the awards ceremony pushed back from 2pm to 4pm. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel in the meantime since that would mean more pain from being picked up and carried, and the Italian medical staff had mentioned that I could go to the hospital- where maybe I could borrow a wheelchair or crutches in time for the ceremony? Thus began my foray into the Italian health system.

Hey, at least it was free, and I was in the company of TSP, Tiger and Atsede. I was taken by ambulance to the Orthopedic Trauma Hospital, where they regularly see all sorts of gnarly alpine casualties, got an x-ray, an injection of anti-inflammatory in my butt, and, after the nurses saw how much I cried using the restroom afterwards, an IV full of paracetamol plus prescriptions for more. Alas, the drugs did nothing for me, there were no wheelchairs available (and all orthopedic stores were closed as it was Sunday) and it all took so long that I wound up missing the awards ceremony. The good news was that the x-ray came back clear- no fracture. What a relief.

This was by far the roughest day. The injury was fresh and painful, I was sleep-deprived, and the emotions were heavy- I cried in fear of the pain, heartbroken over the loss of a dream, and was moved to more tears by all the messages of concern and good wishes I received.

Day Two: Monday

By Monday morning TSP’s back was really hurting, but I came up with the idea of having two other guys carry me down to breakfast in one of the chairs from the hotel room. At least this way I was able to see some of my teammates downstairs before they left.

Afterwards TSP drove out to one of the orthopedic shops that the doctor at the hospital had referred us to and came back with both a wheelchair and big underarm crutches. Score! He said he had to negotiate the purchases using only the translation app on his phone, as the store people spoke no English. The wheelchair was just able to fit around the room and in and out of the bathroom of the very small hotel room, and I felt a huge sense of relief at not having to be picked up and put down any more. We celebrated with a fine dinner at a place called Opificio in Rivoli (the neighborhood closest to the hotel)- excellent pizza, steak and beer.

Day Three: Tuesday

Tuesday was our last full day in Italy, so we all wanted to do a little bit of sightseeing, something I really felt up for now that I was somewhat mobile. The bunch of us went to the original Eataly in Lignotto for lunch and souvenir shopping, and afterwards TSP wheeled me to through the nearby automotive museum while the others wound up walking all the way back to the hotel- about 8 miles! They still weren’t back when we were ready for dinner, which at the hotel’s suggestion this evening involved a twisty drive up into the real hill village of Rivoli where we had our most formal meal of the trip, complete with some wine. After this I was really too tired to pack much, or ask TSP to help me pack.

Day Four: Wednesday

Wednesday was our flight day. I was pretty nervous about how I was going to get on to the plane and survive an eight-hour flight without using the toilet, or what kinds of swelling and pain the trip would entail. Immediately after the race my right ankle had swollen up, and it remained while the rest of my right leg puffed up as well from a lack of circulation, especially the foot. My left leg was got puffy too- I felt like I had gone from being in the best shape of my life to a shapeless blob in a matter of days!

At least the acute and horrendous pain had eased off a little, so that I felt like I might be able to use the crutches. When I had first tried them on Monday, I still felt too much jostling in the right hip when I took a step with my left leg, but by Wednesday I could manage a bit if I was careful.

I needn’t have worried- the Alitalia and airport staff were extremely accommodating. An escort wheeled me to the plane, where I was boarded using a much smaller, aisle-accessible wheelchair. My seat was changed to one directly in front of the larger, accessible bathroom on the plane, which I was able to grasp and slide my way into, no problem.

Disembarking at JFK was the same deal- a smaller wheelchair was brought on to the plane and I was able to switch back into my own chair outside the airplane doors. I was whisked through immigration and customs and really appreciated the help in getting me home in a hurry.

I was also worried about how accessible my apartment would be- while I have plenty of space there are some tight hall areas and my bathroom is definitely too narrow for a wheelchair, plus I have a regular old bathtub. As it turned out it was fine- I could wheel close enough to the bathroom to use the doors and walls for support once I got in, and with the tub I just had to sit on the edge and lift my right leg in before continuing and standing on the left leg to shower.

Day Five: Thursday

By day five I felt comfortable enough on the crutches to largely ditch the wheelchair while at home. I felt much better being vertical than constantly seated.

Since I still couldn’t walk at all I decided to see a doctor in a hurry, so I went to an urgent care facility nearby. It was a nice day out so I thought I’d wheel myself half a mile to get some air, but I got exactly two blocks before my arms were exhausted, the way there was an uphill grade and the sidewalks were too cambered and uneven. I paused at the next bus stop and had my first ride strapped into the wheelchair section.

After I had fully explained my injury and shared the report and CD of the xray from Italy, the doctor ordered another x-ray because he was concerned about my inability to bear weight on the right leg, and he said sometimes a fracture doesn’t show up right away. Oh.

The new x-ray came back and the doctor indeed saw something there. It looked like a white band running laterally along the inner neck of the femur, but nothing like the femoral neck stress fracture images I later looked up on Google. Hmm. An MRI was ordered, which my insurance company luckily approved on the spot, and I got an appointment for it the following Monday.

Day Six: Friday

Friday I had scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor. Since I am fairly new to my insurance plan I figured I should see him before I start asking for referrals all the time.

The office was not far from my apartment but too far for me to wheel myself. Tiger and Dwight came to the rescue and took me over there and waited while I had my consultation, followed by a physical., with urine and blood samples and an EKG. The rest of me is in pretty good shape, resting heart rate of 40, blood pressure under 100/70. When my bloodwork comes back I find that everything is good overall- thyroid, cholesterol, Vitamin D, etc. all normal, and though my iron is still low, my ferritin is good and I’m not anemic.

While on the exam table, the doctor asked me to raise each leg as far up as possible. Left leg: no problem. Right leg: I hesitate, and then, it rises. It doesn’t hurt but there’s a little bit of residual achiness. Still, it feels like huge progress.

Day Seven: Saturday

I slept a lot this day. The leg felt better but I had come down with a cold over the previous days so I rested to get over it. My stomach started to bother me later in the day and continued to be a problem over the weekend. Bleh.

Since this injury I’ve had many dreams about about walking. The first night, I dreamed about hiking in Hong Kong with Maggie- I think we were doing a race of 2 25km loops, like PHUNT, except it was in the mountains of Hong Kong so we were hiking it. Subsequent dreams have been a lot less adventurous. Usually they simply involve me suddenly standing up and walking around the house without the crutches, or doing something mundane that is currently off-limits, like using my stepladder to get the paper towels out of the high cabinets in the kitchen.

Day Eight: Sunday

After staying inside all day on Saturday I’m feeling a little stir-crazy. It’s nice out. Everyone is running races. Boston is tomorrow and instead of running or cheering I’ll be getting an MRI. I’m better every day and there’s no pain, I feel almost as if I could just get up and start walking like in the dreams.

I’m very grateful for all of the messages of care and inquiries about my well-being. However, can’t say much before I get the MRI and see a specialist. I don’t want to speculate or worry needlessly, but I also have to mentally prepare myself for the chance that it could be a stress fracture in the neck of the femur, which is a pretty bad one to have. According to Google, it heals slowly and requires crutches for some time, and running could be off-limits for months. I think I could live without the running part (just barely) but not being able to walk around or do other activities would be a blow.

In today’s adventure, my friend Lori came over and took me to the Duane Reade across the street. Originally I planned to ask her wheel me over, but then I decided to try going the distance on the crutches while she helped with the basket and bags. Well, that was about the extent of my endurance for now. It was a bit of a workout.

 Day Nine: Monday

I feel as if though I could almost walk, and I use the crutches more for support than to completely keep the weight off the right leg. After not taking any anti-inflammatories or painkillers on Sunday, I feel a bit achey and twingy, so I decide to go back on to them until I see a specialist. I know that if it’s a stress fracture, anti-inflammatories can stall the healing process, but I’m feeling like it’s a muscle tear which could continue to respond to the drugs. Anyways it is only a few more days until I see a doctor who can tell me what’s what.

At least, I hope it will just be a few days. While watching Boston online I started my search for a specialist. I call the Hospital for Special Surgery and am told the earliest appointment available is the end of June! Mt. Sinai tells me to call back on Friday for scheduling. I research a bunch of orthopedic surgeons in my insurance network but most seem to specialize in other areas: spinal injuries, shoulders and elbows, pediatrics… Finally I find a hip doctor and submit an online request for an appointment, but I’m worried that this could take a while.

Today is MRI day. My first. I’m expecting a lot of banging and clanging but I forget to bring earplugs., doh! The dream team of Dwight and Tiger pick me up by car to take me to my appointment, and they waited for me the whole time. Thank you so much.

I spent about an hour in the general waiting area before I was called back to the MRI section. There was a robe and a gown in the dressing room so I put the smaller robe on and then the larger gown on top- the lady who assisted me thought this was funny- I guess most people just wear the gown? After a short wait, the radiologist came and took me back into my MRI room, which was very spacious with a huge skylight above. For some reason I always pictured MRIs as taking place in much smaller subterranean rooms. We chatted about the source of my injury, running and ultras, as I got adjusted into the machine. I had to leave my metal crutches outside the room so this all required some careful maneuvering and near-walking on my part.

I lay still, had earplugs inserted and my feet taped together. Then I went in. Almost but not quite all the way in so it was never claustrophobic. I could always see the light of the room if I opened my eyes. I focused on staying perfectly still, breathing calm but shallow, and resisting the urge to pass any gas as I worried that might move my hips in some way. There was a lot of noise but not banging and clanging- it was far more space-age sounding whirls and beeps and honks. After 20 minutes or half an hour the radiologist returned and shifted my position so that my body was in a sort of side bend, like a parenthesis, and I went through another 15 minutes or so of the noise. There was an intercom system so I was told in advance how long each segment would last, anywhere from a few moments to a minute or three or five or six.

 Day Ten: Tuesday

I woke up to the excellent news that Dr. Bharam, the hip specialist I’d requested an appointment with, would be able to see me the following day. That was a huge relief. It also meant I needed to have something to show him. I’d requested to have a copy of the MRI report mailed to me and was told it would take 3-4 business days, so I called the radiology department to see if it was possible to pick up results any sooner and was told I could come in and get a CD that very day. While I was out, I figured I would also stop by the urgent care center to get a copy of my xray images as well.

I took a taxi over to the east side but traffic was so bad that I requested to get off two blocks from the hospital and hopped over on my crutches, rather than circling around by car for another 15 minutes. It was a beautiful day out, and I could make out runners in the park. Someday I’ll be back. To walk this longer distance, I alternated taking 5-10 larger and faster (and more tiring) steps hopping on my left leg, with my right leg off the ground, with sets of shorter steps using the right leg for light support and balance.

Down at radiology, I got the CD and saw that there was also a printed report inside. I sat down and to look it over. I had to read it several times: stress fracture, stress fracture, stress fracture.

2015 World 24-Hour Championships

I still don’t know what happened physically, so this is the mental and emotional race recounting of what’s still largely a mystery to me. Later I’ll add some more photos, especially those taken by my friend Atsede which are amazing.

There were two sides to the story of how I felt going in to the race. On the one hand, I had trained and prepared better than for any race ever, and I was on a high from the overwhelming support I received from friends, teammates, strangers. I can’t thank all of you enough. I ran consistent weeks of what, for me, at this point in my running career, is high mileage. Running practically every day for three months, with doubles as prescribed, and as much speed work and strength training as I could. To ensure that I would not be worn out at all, I stopped racing, except for one little 15K last month. When I started having problems in my left shin and calf, I got it treated quickly and adjusted my training as needed- big thanks to RunnerClinicNYC, coach Michele Yates, Tiger Ellen, and Dr. Wayne Winnick. I improved my diet, supplemented with CarboPro products (thank you too!,) had plenty of sleep, managed to stay free of any illness throughout the harsh winter, and got to Italy with plenty of time to rest and get over jet lag. For once, I didn’t suffer any taper tantrums, perhaps because I had finally done enough training that the downtime was a welcome respite. And I felt really good on my last few runs in Torino during the week before the World Championships.

The other side is that a lack of ultra racing had brought my confidence down a notch. I’d done a bunch of back-to-back long workouts and long runs on weekends, but my longest run had been only 32 miles two weeks out, and that included many stops along the way. Mentally I missed the challenges of pushing, adapting and regrouping that take place during long races, and physically I missed simply running and moving a singular focus for an extended period. Still, I trusted my training, and reminded myself that a little insecurity before a big race is a good thing- without it one risks hubris and disaster. I’d had no consistent or planned training going into my qualifying race last November, and that turned out okay, so I believed in a real likelihood of something special this time around. My goal: 145-150 miles, but really as much as possible- no limits.

After a quiet week on my own in central old Turin, teammates began arriving and I moved into our host hotel in the industrial suburb of Rivoli. Things got very exciting and I did my best not to get too caught up in it, making sure I still got enough rest and resisting the temptation to go out for a few more runs or another large group dinner with the gang of superheros (sorry, it takes me forever to unwind after a big social meal). My crew arrived and I spent some time with them and prepared all my gear and my detailed nutrition plan, making sure everything was clearly labeled and that they knew where to find everything. I was a frequent visitor to the medical staff’s quarters, as they worked on the remaining tension in my left calf and that little bump I got on my right knee while running on the trails a week earlier. Given my past history of not feeling any pain during races in the areas that have bothered me during training, I wasn’t too worried about any of these.

My sleep was not great the last few nights and I felt a little stressed on Friday with all the final preparations, including an opening ceremony that started at 6pm, but I made sure to be in bed as soon as I could. I managed about 6 hours of sleep before waking up at 5am- a full two hours before my alarm. At least I had slept well while I could. I followed my usual routines of coffee, shower, a bit of food (mostly some Simply Bars) and fixing my hair before getting dressed.

Around 8:30am we headed to the stadium and set up my aid in a section of a table in the US tent, which was the last tent in a long row on the track- this meant we had a bit of extra room next to the tent and access to the cushioned mats used for the pole vault or high jump.

The day was warm but not too hot. I didn’t’ receive shorts with my uniform but instead got a thin pair of bright red compression capris along with another pair of thicker regular capris. I really didn’t want to waste time changing bottoms so I figured I could wear the compression capris and if it got cool at night I could pull the other pair over them- I even made sure they were stretchy enough to get around both pairs of my Hokas. I decided to skip my usual calf sleeves because of the heat and because Doc said they really wouldn’t do anything.

Before I knew it, it was time to go line up, I found the US ladies and we took a bunch of photos, and then we found ourselves near the front of the crowd. There were some murmurs about us being too far up front (even ahead of the guys, which I didn’t realize at the time) but I didn’t think it was a big deal, I just didn’t see any point in adding uncounted meters or losing seconds by starting further back. A gun went off but it was not the one to start the race, and then another one and we were off. It was tight at the start with an immediate right turn, and I found myself a bit behind Katalin and Aly for a number of laps. I already had to pee right before the race started, but having already lined up with no toilet in sight, I decided to wait an hour so that I could settle in to the rhythm of the race first. It was pretty smooth and comfortable, and once I went to the portapotty I felt so relieved that I picked up the pace a bit for a lap or two before easing off again.

One of my big worries going in to the race was my GI issues. At the risk of TMI, I simply hadn’t gone enough that morning at the hotel, so I knew something would have to give during the race, and this started to happen about three or four hours in. It had to make a couple of pretty awful trips to the portapotty, and called out for medical help from our team, who gave me a pill and a handful of pretzels. The pretzels were awfully dry but I forced them down, along with pretty much everything else TSP handed me. There was quite a bit of shouting from both of us each time I passed by the US tent- the stadium had both music and an announcer blaring all day, plus I would be coming down a straightaway lined with team tents where all the crews seemed to be calling out and shouting at their runners. The US tent was the last one, just beyond the curve and could only be seen at the last minute.

I had been lapping my splits manually every time I crossed the timing mat, but I had no idea where I was in terms of mileage until I began to approach the first marathon mark. Each loop was 2 kilometers (1.274 miles) around the park and with a lap of the track at the stadium. The timing mat was in the middle of the first straightaway on the track, and there was a jumbotron that displayed runner numbers, names and lap counts at the end of the stadium. While the display was really big, it was hard to see from the timing mat, and by the time I got close enough to read it clearly, my name would often no longer be displayed because so many other runners had passed over the mat by then. Still, I had an idea my marathon split was around 3:50, a few minutes faster than expected but still reasonable, I felt.

Sometime in the fifth hour my right Achilles started to ache, and my hamstrings were feeling tight, so I decided I should stop for a stretch soon and get my stomach issues tended to at the same time. Just after finishing five hours I got on the massage table set up outside the USA tent, and pretty much the full medical staff got to work on me at once as I sipped some ginger ale. Everything got stretched, my stomach was manipulated and I was good to go. I felt great.

The next couple of hours I fell into a steady and slower rhythm on my own, listening to music (the same playlist over and over again) and feeling unstoppable now that I had put my stomach monster to rest. My energy levels felt good, I continued to take in a steady stream of calories, fluids and electrolytes and I looked forward to some cooler temperatures and settling into the long middle hours before really digging deep in the last quarter of the race.

Some time shortly after seven hours I began to notice what felt like a tightness in the front of my right hip flexor- it felt a bit early to be getting tight in the hips but I decided that if it didn’t go away on its own I could stop to get stretched after I hit the eight hour mark- that would mean I’d been running steadily for three hours since my last break and it seemed like a good time for my next short break 1/3 of the way in. I counted down the laps to eight hours, and figured I hit my 50-mile split somewhere around 7:40- right around where I wanted to be. With some expected slowing I would aim to run my next 50 in roughly 8 hours and the final 50 or whatever in the remaining 8:20. My hip was getting a bit tighter and I was looking forward to the break. On my last lap before the break, as I passed by the American tent I saw TSP holding a handwritten sign out that said “take the turns easy, a lot of runners are having hip problems.” Something about the power of suggestion must have taken hold here because the ache was much worse on this final lap before my break and it showed in my lap time: it was about 20 seconds slower than the average lap pace over the previous hours.

I stopped for a few minutes, got the hip tended to and was sent on my way with instructions to start out slower and gradually get back to my regular pace, and not to worry about the hip to the point of holding back. I set off walking, uncomfortably, and this was really the beginning of the end. It hurt, it really hurt, and I wondered if I should turn around and go back to medical for more help, but I was determined to keep going. I started running again on the straightaways and took care to walk through the turns, but I never felt like I got much faster than a shuffle. Every couple of laps I had to stop at medical again and ask for more help, but each time I left the pain was greater than before. At one point, as I limped up the ramp out of the stadium, Traci ran past and told me I should consider dropping with the way I was walking at that point. No, I thought to myself, this will pass, and I’ll be fine later.

No such luck. I kept trying to run and kept limping more as I did, dragging the right leg behind me. I experienced huge kindness from others as I struggled, with countless runners encouraging me and asking if I was okay. Katalin came up to me and planted a big kiss on my cheek, Maggie walked with me a minute or two, as did a few others- Dennene from Canada, Enrique, Jenny. Even if I couldn’t run I still wanted to experience the full 24 hours of Torino, and if necessary I would walk and cheer on the hundreds of runners from dozens of nations throughout the night. I just needed to stretch this ache out. After all, I could always walk, right? I’d never not been able to walk my way through anything.

Until this night. Shortly after dark I made yet another stop at medical and set off painfully again. I had to stop here and there, until about two-thirds through the lap I found myself doubled over, hands on knees, wondering how I was going to make it half a mile to return to the stadium. I clutched at the railings for support, hobbled and made it back to ask for more help. I was on the table for a very long time as the medical team tried everything they could think of. Before they would allow me to leave again they wanted to watch me walk, and I couldn’t anymore, each step on my right leg hurt too much. Back on the table, I was asked to consider whether I wanted to risk further long-term damage by continuing in the race. Honestly, there was nothing left to consider, the only way I might be able to continue at this point would be on my hands and knees, and even that might be a stretch.

It is what it is. It was an unreal sense of relief. Nothing had really sunk in, yet there was nothing more I could do if I couldn’t put weight on the right leg. I was carried to the back tent where I was helped to changed into my sweats and then carried back to the high jump mat where I could lay under some thick blankets. There was no pain as long as I didn’t try to move my right leg, so for hours I watched the rest of Team USA and all the other countries run their races, a front row seat in a theater of pure determination. I was not sad yet, that would come later along with much more pain. TBC.

Week in Review:  4/6

Monday: 6.5 miles with 10×1 min., strength workout

Tuesday: 4.5 miles easy

Wednesday: 3 miles with 3×2 min.

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 62 miles

Sunday: Rest

Week in Review: 3/30

Monday: 5 miles easy

Tuesday: 7.5 miles easy with a fast finish

Wednesday: Rest, and walking around Turin

Thursday: 12 miles longer intervals, strength training

Friday: 5 miles tempo progression

Saturday: 8 miles with short intervals, strength workout

Sunday: Rest

Whippets Take Manhattan 50K Fat Ass-Fundraiser-Fun Run

 

This was my incredible send-off to the 2015 IAU 24-Hour World Championships. My final long training run before heading to Italy and one of my all-time favorite running experiences.

Back around mid-February, perhaps inspired by the fundraising efforts of others on the US team, some of my NYC running club teammates inquired if I had any fundraising plans and if they could do anything to help. Honestly I hadn’t given any thought to fundraising- apart from the funds committed by USATF and the IAU, and the very generous support of RunnerClinicNYC, I fully expected to cover the rest of the costs out of my own pocket.  I hoped to secure some kind of stipend from the NY office of USATF, as our team manager said we could contact regional chapters about this, but had no luck there.

So I got to thinking, if people would like to support my efforts, I would certainly be grateful for any help. But rather than just say, “hey, gimme some money!,” I wanted to do something special for the fundraising and give something back that could be of value to the running community- so I came up with the idea of organizing a 50K run around the perimeter of Manhattan and making shirts to commemorate the run (and, by extension, my participation in the world championships). The run around Manhattan is something many runners might think of doing but wouldn’t necessarily know how to- there are some tricky stretches, and the two times I had done the route previously I wound up somewhat lost in Harlem, where there is no path by the river.

I felt uncomfortable asking people to donate just to run with me, so I decided run itself would be free and open to all, with donations of $20+ getting a shirt. And knowing that 50K is not everyone’s idea of a fun run, I encouraged people to join for whatever mileage they felt up to and we combined it with the regularly scheduled Saturday morning Whippets run which I co-host- mainly I wanted to have a big running/going-away party!

A few weeks before the run, I scouted out the more unfamiliar northern half of the route to make sure I’d get all the directions right. I thought about letting people “race” Fat Ass-style, but figured it would be more fun if we could stay together as much as possible or at least regroup regularly, so I planned stops every 4-6 miles, where people could also find toilets and buy food or drink. These break points were near public transit, so others could also join in or leave the run as needed. I estimated the full route, with breaks, would take about 6 hours (5 hours of running at an easy pace, plus 1 hour divided among the five rest stops, waiting for traffic lights, etc.).

Im a sticker!

Im a sticker!

Thanks to my the design talents of Dashing Whippets teammates Patricia Tirona and Jerlyn Thomas, and financial support from the Whippets and RunnerClinicNYC, I was able to offer a nice soft long-sleeved cotton t-shirt (with snug ladies sizing too) and a commemorative sticker that I had printed up while I was in Hong Kong. I got back from Hong Kong late on Thursday night, organized all the things on Friday, and was up bright and early on Saturday to get rolling.

The ultra-rock star Mary Arnold of New York Running Company in Time Warner Center had offered to open the store early so that people could leave drop bags there for the finish, and she even brought coffee. There were already a bunch of people there by the time I got there around 7:45, and I was soon busy distributing shirts and stickers, posing for photos and signing some shirts. Mary was a great help with keeping things organized, as we had to hurry down to meet the other crowd of mainly Whippets who had gathered downstairs.

Swag pickup. Photo: Jerlyn Thomas

Swag pickup. Photo: Jerlyn Thomas

I made some announcements- most importantly, about food and beer downstairs afterwards, and we were ready to go around 8:10. It was cold! When I started thinking of this run back in February, the only Saturdays I could fit into my schedule were March 7 or 28, and I picked the later date for a better chance of nice weather. Not so, as we had a final bit of winter in store, but at least the paths were clear compared to earlier in the month, when too many of the uptown sections would have been covered in snow and slush.

Briefing the downstairs crew. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Briefing the downstairs crew. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Here’s the rest of the run, mostly in photos:

Early miles heading down the west side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Early miles heading down the west side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

We started a little faster than expected.

First stop, South Ferry/ Staten Island Ferry Terminal Building (mile 6). Photo: TSP

First stop, South Ferry/ Staten Island Ferry Terminal Building (mile 6). Photo: TSP

Best to get the downtown portion of the run over with early before the area gets busy with tourists.

Heading north, we pass under the first of three bridges on the east side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Heading north, we pass under the first of three bridges on the east side.  Photo: Vincent Hsu

We started seeing snowflakes as we headed uptown and some of us thought we were hallucinating.

After a detour onto First Ave. due to the UN, we took our next break at 59th and First Ave and a few others joined us there. Photo: Vincent Hsu

After a detour onto First Ave. due to the UN, we took our next break at 59th and First Ave (mile 12) and a few others joined us there. Photo: Vincent Hsu

 

Photo: Vincent Hsu

Up the East River Promenade. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Into Harlem, a bit of zigzagging inland as there is no river path through this part of town. C’mon NYC- let’s give this neighborhood river access like the rest of the city! But we got to see some of historic Harlem- 125th St and Malcolm X Blvd.

Starbucks at 145th and Bradhurst mile 18. Photo: Wade Lambert

Third stop: Starbucks at 145th and Bradhurst (mile 18.) Photo: Wade Lambert

We all went a bit crazy for coffee, food and the restrooms at the Starbucks here and spent a bit more time than scheduled.

Giant stairs on the way to Harlem River Drive. Photo: TSP

Giant stairs on the way to Harlem River Drive. Photo: TSP

By now the snow was really coming down. and we are running into a headwind. Crazy!

Twin Donut. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Twin Donut. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Fourth and most fabulous stop: Twin Donut at 218th and Broadway (Mile 22.5). We were running a bit late due to our extended break at the Starbucks but that gave a few more people a chance to meet us there, including Eric who had gone to the other Twin Donut 2 miles south of here!

GWB. Photo: Vincent Hsu

GWB. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Onto Seaman Avenue, Riverside Drive and the west side, with a few bits of hill before we head under the GWB and cruise the flats to the finish. The snow has stopped and the wind is at our backs, we can even see the clouds are starting to break.

Fifth and final stop: Fairway Supermarket at 125th and Riverside Drive (mile 27.5) I told folks back at Twin Donut that this stop would be optional since it was only 4 miles to the finish from here. We only pause briefly to say goodbye to Sara who has to get back to her family.

A few more miles to the finish. We have one more uphill stretch to climb in the last half mile back to TWC. I tell my companions we have to run it since we haven’t walked any of the previous 31 miles. I do feel a little tired in the last two miles.

Photo: Tiger Ellen

Photo: Tiger Ellen

And then we were done! Beer and food at Whole Foods Tap Room: a great spot for post-race/long run activities since you can bring in whatever you want to eat from the supermarket.

Huge thank you to everyone who joined for any mileage, and congrats to the full 50K finishers: Jeremy (longest run ever!), Martin, Wade, Margaret, Themba, Jerlyn, Otto, Stephen, Keila, Vincent and Vadim! I am so happy I could get a bunch of around your first trip around Manhattan!

Week in Review: 3/23

Monday: 11 miles easy

Tuesday: Rest and strength training

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: 9 miles mostly easy to moderate with a few short intervals, strength workout

Friday: 5 miles easy

Saturday: 32 miles easy

Sunday: 13 miles easy

 

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